On Wednesday, billionaire and Presidential Candidate Donald Trump gave his first foreign policy speech on live television. I never touted political affiliations in or out of uniform, and do not intent to start now. I do find myself impressed at his first offering because his points speak to many things I felt while I wore the uniform. I am looking forward to hearing more of his plans. Do not mistake my empathy for support.
I am fond of the phrase, “It takes work to have an opinion.” Do not be satisfied with 2 minute videos on your Facebook feed. Read the full transcript here. Whether you agree or disagree, Donald Trump gave points worthy of consideration.
“I’d like to talk today about how to develop a new foreign policy direction for our country, one that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace.”
Okay, Mr. Trump you have my attention. I agree our foreign policy has been random. Congress does not declare war when it is warranted—forcing the military fight with one hand tied—and authorizes various military actions willy-nilly. Very random indeed. After 15 years of military conflict, peace is a welcome prospect. I’m listening.
“My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first. Has to be. That will be the foundation of every single decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.”
That is a big claim and a standard one at that. Many have said something similar, many have tried, many have failed to deliver. Moving on.
“[After the Cold War]… We failed to develop a new vision for a new time. In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense. Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one foreign policy disaster after another”
Ok, now you REALLY have my attention. Whether you believe the Iraq Invasion was a mistake or not, it was degraded by foolishness and arrogance. Iraq is a foreign policy disaster, regardless of the President you blame it on.
“It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy. We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed.”
He doesn’t blame a specific President but remember who was President in 2003. Somalia and Haiti could fall into this as well, though Trump is speaking specifically on the Middle East. Those two sentences strike upon so many key points: the use of military force, nation building, stabilizing war torn countries, etc.
Trump goes on to list five weaknesses in American foreign policy. First, he says America’s resources are over-extended. Over-extension as a result of fighting two simultaneous, multi-year conflicts is logical but his reasoning is purely economic. He blames President Obama for crippling the military through wasteful spending, massive debt, low growth and a huge trade deficit. Remember Mr. Trump, Iraq and Afghanistan have been going on since 2003 and 2001 respectively. Those wars were not fought on the cheap, and all signs point to economic recovery after the 2007-2010 recession. Furthermore, Congress holds the pursestrings, and as such should take some of the blame. SOF budgets also increased every year so I’m not buying the weak military argument. If you want to know about speak about wasteful spending and massive debt, see Senator John McCain about the F-35 project.
Second, he states our allies are not paying their fair share. He lambasts many NATO nations for not paying the 2% minimum of GDP for their defense, and then promises “a Trump administration will lead a free world that is properly armed and funded, and funded beautifully.” I’m not sure who is funding what here. We have security agreements with fellow nations. I agree most of them should probably be re-looked.
Third, he says our “friends” don’t think the U.S. is dependable. This is a weak statement with weak reasoning. He starts out lamenting the Iran nuclear deal. Trump firmly believes the Iran deal is unfavorable because the U.S. was not willing to walk away. He counsels, “In negotiation, you must be willing to walk.” Sound advice for anyone. He also laments the Obama Administration’s criticism of Israel. Given the 10-year, $30 billion military aid package we have with Israel until FY2018, I say our criticism, while possibly unwelcome, is justifiable. U.S. support for Israel is not going away. He also says, in the most non-specific and non-academic way possible, that our friends are “looking elsewhere for help.” I do not have the slightest clue which “friends” he was speaking of and the lack of facts made my head hurt.
Fourth, Trump said our rivals no longer respect us. Facts do not abound here either. He indicts President Obama as weak since no leaders were on hand to greet him as Air Force One arrived in Cuba and Saudi Arabia this year. The Cuban Foreign Minister did greet the President so we can move on there. It is more an indictment of Castro and the House of Saud than anything else. He lists North Korean missile tests and China’s cyber and industrial espionage attacks as humiliations in President Obama’s administration. Those are weak parting shots, as North Korea and China have done those activities for decades.
His fifth point is the strongest: “America no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign policy goals…One day, we’re bombing Libya and getting rid of a dictator to foster democracy for civilians. The next day, we’re watching the same civilians suffer while that country falls and absolutely falls apart. Lives lost, massive moneys lost. The world is a different place.”